How Beer is Made
Beer is typically made from 5 classes of ingredients: water, malt, hops, yeast and sometimes adjuncts.
Water is beer’s most abundant ingredient. We use Albany city water, after removing the chlorine. It is very good brewing water.
Malt is the next most abundant ingredient in beer. It gives the beer its sweet, malty taste and aroma, is the only source of a naturally-made beer’s color, and provides the food that the yeast will convert into alcohol and carbon dioxide. Malt is very important!
Malt is ground in a mill, mixed with hot water (to form a porridge-like mass called the mash) and left to steep at about 150F. At that temperature enzymes in the malt convert its starch into sugar, which the yeast will later consume. This process, called mashing, takes about an hour. Afterward, the sweet liquid, called wort, is separated from the mash and sent to the kettle.
Once the separation of wort and mash is complete, the spent malt, which is mostly husk material, is emptied from the mash tun. Our spent malt goes to a nearby sheep farm, where it is used as feed.
In the kettle the wort is boiled. This is done for several reasons, one of which is sterilization. Hops are added during the boil to add bitterness, and sometimes their aroma, to the sweet wort. Unwanted proteins are also removed during the boil.
After the boil, which lasts from 60-120 minutes, the wort is whirlpooled and allowed to sit for 20-30 minutes so that the hop debris and protein clumps (called “trub, ” pronounced, “troob.”) can be settled at the center of the kettle. This is done to avoid getting the trub into the beer.
The wort is then rapidly cooled in a heat exchanger and pumped to one of the fermentation vessels. The picture below shows the trub pile that is left after the wort is pumped out of the kettle.
The yeast is added to the cool wort in the fermentation vessel. The type of yeast used determines whether the beer will be an ale or a lager. That is the ONLY thing that determines the difference between ales and lagers. Either type of beer can be light or dark, strong or weak.
Ales, which ferment at about 65 degrees F, are ready to drink in about 3-6 weeks. Lagers, which ferment at about 50F, are ready to consume in 6-8 weeks. Large industrial breweries, concerned with cost, often pump out their lagers in about 3 weeks. They claim that quality is not adversely affected.
Most beers are best drunk fresh, but some dark, strong beers, and beers made with yeast other than the normal brewing strains can improve with extended aging. All beer should be kept cool and dark at all times.